Business, Economics and Jobs

Cheap, subsidized breast milk in the Philippines


A woman breastfeeds her baby under a bridge in a slum east of Manila, Philippines, in August 2012.


Nicolas Asfouri

According to the World Health Organization, that "yellowish" and "sticky" breast milk produced by mothers in late pregnancy is the "perfect food for the newborn."

Even if that yellowish, sticky substance comes from a stranger's breast.

Sold on the benefits of breast milk, the Philippines has set up several "breast milk banks" that dole out milk at below-market rates to women who can't lactate or simply can't get away from work long enough to breastfeed.

A new report in IRIN (a news service run by the United Nations) explains how the Philippines keeps milk banks stocked. They offer moms in maternity wards a hospital bill discount if they make a milk deposit.

The concept of milk sharing appears to have taken off in Manila. On Facebook, the Philippines chapter of a pro-breastmilk group (Human Milk 4 Human Babies) runs a lively, Craigslist-style meet-up spot for women who supply and receive breast milk. (Sample post: "I have 10 bags of frozen milk but we don't have electricity since last night. What can I do about this? I am willing to donate.")

Lest you mistake breast milk swaps as a Philippine phenomenon, both ABC News and the Associated Press have reported on the lesser-known world of American breast milk banks.

But it appears that, in the Philippines, government subsidies are radically lowering breast milk's market price. According to IRIN, the Philippines' state-run milk bank charges $10 per four liters.

The going rate for that much breast milk in the Boston area, according to prices quoted by the AP?

More than $600.